Editor’s Note: The John A. Hartford Foundation is collaborating with ASA to advance equity in aging by supporting ASA Rise, a 20-week social justice and leadership program for rising leaders of color in aging, and via the development and dissemination of equity-related, partnership-based thought leadership through ASA’s Generations platform. This blog post from an ASA Rise Fellow is the fifth in that series.
Who knew there was an entire organization dedicated to older Black adult lesbians? Not me, but I can honestly say once I found out and was matched with my mentor, Mary Anne Adams, founder and executive director of ZAMI NOBLA (National Organization of Black Lesbians on Aging), I was thrilled. How did I get this amazing mentor? The ASA RISE Fellowship.
I applied on a whim to this program hoping to find comradery, and I did. I have found validation, emotional support, guidance, education, friendships and mentors. This program has given me the courage to speak up more openly about the inequities I observe in our community.
I challenge my agency, I challenge my coworkers, I challenge our policies and I challenge myself. I am honest and true about the emotional, mental and physical battles BIPOC face daily; treading lightly knowing the detriment I may cause to myself.
I process every interaction pertaining to DEI with my ASA RISE cohort; and they are a strong, well-educated and passionate group of individuals seeking social justice, equity and representation. I have gained an inspirational and supportive mentor.
This program reminds BIPOC that we are not alone in this fight, and we are not delusional when seeing and speaking out against the inequities historically marginalized communities face. ASA RISE is the catalyst desperately needed to disrupt and dismantle the status quo.
ASA RISE prepares BIPOC for leadership roles, advocacy, activism, equity, inclusion, social justice and speaking up. The hardest challenge I am facing is the political influence on program development, but with my cohort I have been supported immensely through this process and know I must keep fighting for what is right.
‘ASA RISE is the catalyst desperately needed to disrupt and dismantle the status quo.’
Without ASA RISE, I fear I would once again feel defeated and depleted due to racial battle fatigue, and I would retreat into my small bubble not fighting any further for DEI educational training, or for LGBT older adults. I am forever grateful to this program and to ASA for developing and implementing it and staying true to the purpose of ASA RISE.
I would like to encourage all BIPOC professionals in aging to apply to this program; you will have support and reassurance from your cohort, Patrice Dickerson and Cynthia Banks. We are aware that living as a BIPOC is very different to living as a non-BIPOC in America, especially for our older population. It is a collective kinship; a space for BIPOC to be vulnerable, and raw; we can be honest and expressive without fear of reprisal and judgment.
The Mentorship Component
ASA RISE usually matches cohort members to mentors within the field of aging who also are BIPOC. As mentioned, I was paired with an amazing woman, Mary Anne Adams. For our first meeting we didn’t discuss work or the RISE Fellowship, instead we were directed to talk about ourselves and our interests. This was a unique and helpful way to get to know my mentor and for her to know me.
“When I think about my mentee Jennifer, I am reminded of the sage words from one of my favorite poets, Gwendolyn Brooks, ‘we are each other's harvest, we are each other's business, we are each other's magnitude and bond,’ said Adams. “Our relationship exemplifies a co-mentoring model where we learn and grow from each other. I am impressed by Jennifer's extraordinary intuition, and her ability to quickly understand and form insights into complex ways of problem-solving. She is well-rounded and intellectually capable of presenting different perspectives, which is an overall asset in working with older adults and with community stakeholders.
“Jennifer also is a fierce social justice advocate, and a gifted trainer, researcher and social worker. I have been particularly impressed by her untiring service to marginalized older adults and her unflagging dedication to fighting for fair and equitable treatment for the health and healthcare of all LGBTQ elders. She believes that direct service is honorable work and can help change lives,” added Adams.
Throughout this program I have seen growth within myself—I am an expert in my field, I have a voice, I am an advocate, and I can do this work independent of my agency. I gained this confidence by hearing Mary Anne’s words, and taking in her experience, humor, candor and authenticity. Mary Anne and ZAMI NOBLA are conducting research on older Black lesbians, the data that is needed to show where the inequities and disparities are in our society.
She is involved in her community and takes initiative by implementing a resolution to the inequities she witnesses, such as starting community gardens to address food insecurity and food deserts. In my opinion, the most important part of her work is that she goes to isolated older Black lesbians, meeting with them, and she gives them her time. But she also shows up and lets us know, that we, as aging Black Queer/Lesbian Women, are not alone. I admire Mary Anne and her work.
‘To be truly genuine and vulnerable you must feel safe, and you must have trust.’
Learning from her some of the barriers and challenges associated with nonprofits, funding, programs and needs assessments has provided me more insight and clarity into what it is I would like to accomplish while working at the Pikes Peak Area Agency on Aging in Colorado Springs.
She also validates the importance of having LGBT older adult support groups, specifically Black older LGBT adult support groups. She understands the historical context surrounding LGBT issues within communities of color.
A Mentor Who Understands Living in America as I Do
Having a mentor who looks like me, speaks like me, and understands what it is like living in America as a Black Queer Woman is imperative while working in the field of aging. However, I feel it would be beneficial for any BIPOC to have a mentor who reflects their values, morals, and beliefs and shares or can relate to personal experiences of being BIPOC in America. To be truly genuine and vulnerable you must feel safe, and you must have trust. Because if you don’t, the chances of really learning about yourself and your why may never come to the surface.
Having weekly meetings for an hour is not enough time for me to really dive deep into the world of Mary Anne Adams, but the short time we have together is valuable.
Adams agreed and added, “I am grateful to Patrice Dickerson for inviting me to participate as a Mentor in the ASA Rise program. And I applaud the ASA Rise program for fostering social change and nurturing diverse voices. I am excited to have the opportunity to meet with Jennifer weekly and to learn from her. I am certain this is the beginning of a lifelong relationship. I have dedicated my life to working in the field of aging, and in recent years, specifically with LGBTQ elders, and am thrilled to see Jennifer and other young BIPOC professionals committed to carrying out this work."
I know that upon completion of the ASA RISE Fellowship, I will stay in touch with Mary Anne. The ASA RISE program and the global virtual village Eldera did a wonderful job matching me with my mentor. She and I have many things in common, besides identifying as Black Queer Women. We share similar interests (gardening, reading, music, humor, pets, research and the aging field) and we both have passion for what we do. I have learned so much within the last few weeks talking with Mary Anne, and her research on older, mature Black lesbians and breast cancer is enlightening (Research — ZAMI NOBLA), and necessary to understand the inequities in healthcare.
She is inspiring and supportive, which is key, to have a mentor who will not allow me to quit on myself or to feel depleted and defeated. She is there to encourage and remind me of my why when I experience extreme difficulties and face realities within my organization and the political influences that hinder any progress; I must remember my why.
The ASA RISE Fellowship and mentorship program encourages fellows to discuss activities outside of work, but to also look at why you do the work you do, your ambitions, areas where you see there are gaps in services, and how you can be a better advocate for the community. I believe having someone in your corner who understands you, is honest with you, and gets it, encourages introspection and growth.
I need someone who gets it, and I am forever grateful that Mary Anne is my mentor. If I didn’t relate to my mentor, I am not sure I would have been so open and vocal about my frustrations with the aging field when talking about the historically marginalized communities—BIPOC.
I admire Mary Anne and her work. I admire what she created. She saw a need for her community and figured out a way to address some of the inequities to accessing supportive services for Older Black Lesbians. Thank you, ASA RISE, for this incredible opportunity and thank you, Mary Anne, for being my mentor.
Jennifer Horn, MSW, is a care planner at the Family Caregiver Support Center at the Pikes Peak Area Agency on Aging in Colorado Spring, Colo., and a Fellow in the inaugural cohort of ASA RISE Co-conspirators.
Photo: Jennifer Horn, left; Mary Anne Adams, right.
Photos courtesy of Jennifer Horn and Mary Anne Adams.